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This is why refugees need the right to work

16 Aug 2017
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Their greatest hope is to go home again. But until it’s safe to return, these 7 refugees are intent on learning, earning and giving back to the communities welcoming them.

Colombian refugee Carmen handcrafts gladiator sandals in her workshop. © UNHCR/Santiago Arcos

Few are more exposed than the vast numbers of men, women and children driven to run for their lives by war, violence and persecution. Over 65.6 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of 2016 — and many are in desperate need of protection.

The horrors and hardships they have experienced may be difficult to forget. But when given the opportunity to work and learn, they can find new hope in the wake of so much loss.

On World Humanitarian Day 2017 — and every day — we call on world leaders to remember that people displaced by conflict and persecution are #NotATarget. They have rights, dignity and talents worth investing in.

We stand together #WithRefugees. Please stand with us.


1. Burundian nurse cares, and is cared for, in Uganda

Bosco tends to refugees and locals alike at a hospital at Nakivale settlement. When his own health crisis struck, his colleagues were there for him.

“Saving lives is a huge responsibility,” says Bosco, who fled violence in Burundi and works as a nurse — even as he copes with his own case of cancer. “This is what I always wanted to do and I wouldn’t change my job for anything.”

2. Syrian shoemaker achieves business success in Morocco

After fleeing the devastating war in Syria, Diyaa set up a workshop in Casablanca and won an award for entrepreneurship.

“Moroccans have always inspired confidence in me,” says Diyaa, who has created jobs for four local residents. “As an employer, I feel reassured working hand in hand with them.”

3. Refugee seamstresses stitch together new lives in Germany

A workshop has taken on six skilled refugee women with experience in the fashion industry and helped them to find their feet in Frankfurt.
“You could say I am stitching my life together again,” says Reyhane Heidari, an Afghan seamstress who likes to mix Afghan and European styles. “Yes, that’s how it feels.”

4. Photography student from Mosul focuses lens on new life in Finland

Within months of escaping Iraq, photography student Ahmed Alalousi had held three exhibitions and made a video with a Finnish rapper.

“People I know were killed every day,” says Ahmed, whose talent as a photographer has opened doors and sped his integration. “It happened so often that I had no more tears to cry.”


5. Sky is the limit for refugee who fled Somalia

Arriving in Canada as refugee was overwhelming for Osman Ali, but now he has found his feet and is determined to help others.
“Like every other young man, I wanted to change the world,” says Osman, who came to Canada nearly 40 years ago. And he has done just that, by teaching newcomers how to succeed.

6. Science graduate urges fellow Afghan refugees to “dream big”

Mojtaba Tavakoli, who arrived in Austria as a child with just an elementary education, is about to begin a doctorate in medical research.
“I have seen things that people twice my age have not seen,” says Mojtaba, who fled violence in Afghanistan. “This makes me strict with myself to use my opportunities and make my family proud.”


7. Vietnamese refugee turns flight into art in Canada

Living in a Thai refugee camp in 1980, Trung Pham found solace in the pages of his sketchbook. Today, in Canada, his work records that flight from danger.
“I want to make sculptures that we can look at, so people can remember any day, any time,” says Trung, who has exhibited widely in his adopted homeland. “It lasts forever.”